HP Pavilion Elite e9120y review: HP Pavilion Elite e9120y

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The Good Broad assortment of features offer a little bit of everything, from Blu-ray to wireless networking; strong online support.

The Bad Classic jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none PC next to faster, more affordable competition; worst power efficiency in its class.

The Bottom Line We've never loved HP's Pavilion Elite PCs, and this desktop offers the same scattershot configuration that has always put us off. That said, we suspect a dorm room might actually be an appropriate place for a midtower that offers acceptable speed on top of Blu-ray capability. Just know that faster, more specialized desktops are available for less.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Support 7

Review Sections

Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.

We're not overly excited by the HP Pavilion Elite e9120y. Yes, it has a Blu-ray drive, an AMD quad-core chip, and a discrete graphics card, all of which work together to make this a reasonably capable, multipurpose computer. But for $830 this system leans toward the more expensive desktops you'll find at retail, and it doesn't quite have the performance to show for it. If you're looking for a Swiss Army PC, and intend to watch Blu-ray movies at your desk, the Pavilion Elite e9120y will make sense for you. Anyone looking for performance bang-for-the-buck or a Blu-ray-equipped desktop to bring into the living room has better options to choose from.

We've long had issues with the Pavilion Elite's chassis, and when HP's other desktops received a design overhaul this summer we hoped the Elite series might also get a revamp. No such luck. It's reasonably attractive on the outside with glossy black plastic all around and an easily accessible media card reader. But as we've pointed out in the past, HP dedicates far too much case real estate in this line to accommodate two different versions of HP's removable, proprietary hard drives. Most retail shoppers can safely ignore these superfluous drive bays, but we'd love for HP to finally put them out to pasture, as they contribute little utility at purchase, and questionable value-per-GB were you to spring for the drive upgrade after bringing the system home.

  HP Pavilion Elite e9120y Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006
Price $830 $750
CPU 2.6GHz AMD Phenom II X4 910 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300
Memory 8GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4350 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 220
Hard drives 1TB 7,200rpm 750GB 7,200rpm
Networking 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11 b/g/n/ wireless Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11b/g/n wireless
Optical drive Blu-ray drive; dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

We find many similarities between the Pavilion Elite e9120y and a desktop from relative retail newcomer Asus. Each has a midrange quad-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, and wireless networking. The HP costs a bit more, but it offers a larger hard drive than the Asus and a Blu-ray player. Asus' advantages are its faster 3D graphics card, and generally faster performance on our benchmarks. We're happy to call this features match-up a draw in terms of capabilities for the dollar, but the components in this system seem to be at odds with each other.

Essentially the Pavilion Elite e9120y is a classic jack of all trades, master of none. It can play Blu-ray movies, but we wouldn't use it as a digital theater PC in the living room because of its size. It has decent application performance, as you'll see below, but it's not as fast as other PCs that cost less. And although its discrete 3D card likely helps Blu-ray playback, it barely registers on our most forgiving 3D gaming test. You can configure similar desktops from HP on its Web site and build a more targeted, specialized computer. Unless you're looking for this particular blend of only so-so features and performance, we'd suggest that the online configuration route would net you a better system.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite e9120y

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite e9120y

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite e9120y

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multi-CPU  
Rendering single CPU  
Acer Aspire M5800-U5802A
HP Pavilion Elite e9120y
Asus Essentio CG5270-BP003
Gateway SX2800-01
Gateway DX4300-03

The $750 Asus Essentio CG5270-BP003 listed above gives the HP trouble on almost every benchmark. And if the performance gap on our application tests isn't that dramatic (HP even wins on our Cinebench test), keep in mind the Asus system is $80 cheaper. The HP will perform any and all nongaming computing tasks you might care to throw at it, even including video editing and multitasking. But as our test results make plain, this system is slower than its competition.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Gateway DX4300-03
HP Pavilion Elite e9120y

We don't expect every PC with a discrete 3D card to deliver barnstorming gaming performance, but given that the Radeon HD 4350 graphics card contributes so little gaming power, we have to wonder whether HP could have used a Blu-ray-capable integrated graphics chip, shaved the price, and freed up an expansion card slot. Without access to HP's individual component costs, we can't say for certain whether such a move would save that much money. All we can do is point to our test results, which demonstrate clearly that the graphics card in this HP will only provide the most basic improvement to 3D gaming over an integrated chip.

We commend HP for at least choosing a graphics card with an HDMI video output. That will come in handy if you do decide to haul this system into your living room for full-screen Blu-ray playback. It will also let you take advantage of recent HDMI-based LCDs. Audio outputs include 7.1 analog audio and a coaxial digital audio connector, and for external digital storage you get a single FireWire 400 jack. Whether you'd rather have an optical digital audio or eSATA port will depend on whether you have or plan to buy peripherals that support those inputs; but we think HP offers a reasonable assortment of ports as is.

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